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Rick Lubbers column: Sharing stories of a first-edition newspaper

Betty Hastings of Hermantown donated this first edition of the Duluth Evening Herald to the News Tribune recently.1 / 2
Betty Hastings, 90, of Hermantown recently discovered an original copy of the first edition of the Duluth Evening Herald, published Monday evening, April 9, 1883.2 / 2

You never know what ancient artifact might turn up in the bottom of a cluttered drawer or in long-forgotten basement storage.

Betty Hastings of Hermantown came across an old envelope — postmarked Dec. 18, 1935 — that contained an even older object inside. A copy of the very first edition of the Duluth Evening Herald.

• Published Monday evening, April 9, 1883

• Volume 1, No. 1

• Cost: 2 cents

The American flag had only 38 stars then, and President Chester A. Arthur was the country's 21st president. Duluth, of course, was much younger than the USA, having been officially incorporated as a city just five years earlier.

Betty contacted me through one of her friends and asked if I would be interested in taking a look at it.

For a journalist with a sweet tooth for history, this was too good of an opportunity to pass up. So, I eagerly made the trip to Hermantown to visit Betty.

That historic front page is an intriguing snapshot of a time in Duluth's infancy. Half advertisements and half news, the inaugural Duluth Evening Herald contained no photographs or artistic renderings on its cover.

The ads alerted readers to businesses ranging from Campbell and Smith's dry goods emporium and the Crystal Palace Saloon to La Vaque's wallpaper and decoration store and Mrs. Ward's Millinery Store, where ladieswear could be purchased.

The lead story is headlined "Sunshine in Life," a recounting of a pastor's sermon the night before at a Methodist church. Some municipal court proceedings are listed after that ... all people arrested and fined for being drunk. An example: "A. Lonquest was drunk and disorderly at Rice's Point last night and Officer Peloski found considerable difficulty in arresting him. He had an infernal machine called a self cocking revolver, on his person beside a dangerous looking knife. He contributed $10 to the city treasury this morning."

Also published on that front page is something called "Personal Pencilings," which the paper describes as "The People who Come, and the People who Go, in Whom the Herald Readers are Interested." That apparently included "James B. Stone of Grand Rapids, Mich., is a late arrival in Duluth, and he proposes to remain here and engage in some kind of business."

The News Tribune doesn't publish a "People who Come and People who Go" column anymore — and it would be an impossible task for any reporter or editor — but we still firmly believe that everyone has an interesting story to tell.

Including Betty Hastings. Born in 1927, she attended Faribault School for the Deaf and later worked at St. Luke's hospital until retirement.

"While working at St. Luke's, I started teaching American Sign Language," Betty wrote in an email. "After a few years, I also taught ASL night classes at Community Education Duluth Schools — which included the following schools: Washington, Morgan Park, Lincoln Junior High and Woodland — for 30-plus years. Many of my students went on to become interpreters for the deaf, which has made me very proud. I also taught ASL at Lake Superior College.

"My husband, Raymond Hastings, who passed away in 1995, also was deaf and graduated from Faribault School for the Deaf. After his passing and in my moving process, to my surprise, I found the Duluth newspaper dated 1883. My husband received this from his relatives when he was young."

Which is why I was more than a little surprised when she asked if I would be interested in taking the paper back with me to the DNT. I was humbled at the offer and am happy to say that paper is now on display in my office — a reminder of our city's rich newspaper past and a motivator to carry on that fine tradition long into the future.

"Now that I'm 90 years old, I'm proud to share this Duluth paper," Betty said.

And we are honored to display it, Betty.

Contact News Tribune editor Rick Lubbers at rlubbers@duluthnews.com or (218) 723-5301. Follow him @ricklubbersdnt on Twitter.